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By Nick Gray | Basketball beat writer
The prospect of a return home to the state of Texas had UK freshman forward Julius Randle expressing delight two days before the Cats’ game against Baylor University
“It’s a dream of mine to come back to my home,” the Dallas, Texas native said while grinning to reporters on Wednesday.
Randle will be less than 30 miles away from where he graduated high school (Prestonwood Christian High School in Plano, Texas) when No. 5 UK faces the No. 20 Bears at 10 p.m. on Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The 6-foot-9-inch forward had his double-double streak of seven games snapped in a 12-point, eight-rebound effort against Providence College on Sunday.
The way to limit Randle was displayed in front of a national audience in Chicago on Nov. 12 against Michigan State University. The Spartans played a zone for a large portion of the first half and brought help defenders every time Randle was close to the basket.
Randle battled back for 23 points in the second half as he readjusted his game, going toward the basket without the hesitation he employed in the first 20 minutes.
That effort has not stopped every UK opponent since the Michigan State game to play zone against Randle and the Cats. The defensive pressure on him has worked in both positive and negative ways.
Randle has 29 turnovers, 10 more than any other UK player, but he also leads the team in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game.
“The only thing I said (to Randle): ‘Quit trying to be perfect,’” Calipari said on Wednesday. “‘You’re trying to act like you should make every play. Just stop. Just play harder than the other guy.’”
Baylor’s size, which includes 7-foot-1-inch sophomore center Isaiah Austin and 6-foot-9-inch senior forward Cory Jefferson, has not deterred the Bears from using zone throughout the season.
Both Calipari and Randle expect Baylor to play zone defense, something that will be a factor on Friday.
“If you double and triple me, then you have to live with those other guys making shots,” Randle said. “If you want to single-cover (the post), then I’ll be able to make plays.”
The Cats, along with Randle, will have to wait four more months to potentially return to AT&T Stadium as Friday’s game will be played in the same building that will house the 2014 Final Four. Randle’s mind is focused on making the second trip home.
“Very important,” Randle said. “It’s the most important thing this year.”